When our kids were eight and ten, we made them try two weeks of sleep-away camp. We ask them each year if they want to go back, and so far, the answer has been an enthusiastic Yes! This year and last, they have gone for one month. Our son, fourteen, goes to the same camp I went to as a teenager: one that is big on rugged camping and not much else. He’ll spend over twenty days canoeing a remote river in northern Ontario, learning to navigate rocks and rapids, fears and friendships. Our daughter prefers to go to an all-girls camp with her cousins and the daughters of my childhood friends. She gets to sail, swim, do archery, and perform in the summer musical. They don’t have phones or screens of any kind. Mail is slow, so we rarely hear from them. Yet we know that they are being cared for by many, capable adults, so we don’t worry. This time away is good for them. It is also good for us, and our marriage.
Since the kids left three weeks ago, I’ve done laundry once. I haven’t yet turned on the oven. I cooked one large batch of red-lentil curry and we have been eating that every day. When I clean the house, it’s still clean the next day. Phone chargers and scissors stay where I put them. There are no arguments about screens and bathrooms. Our home feels less like a train station and more like a quiet, tidy oasis. But that’s not the best part. The best part is I get to reconnect with my husband.
At first, it was too quiet. Our conversations were awkward. With the kids gone, there were no logistics. With no logistics, there was nothing to talk about. For years, I’ve believed that our communication was less than great. Now I don’t think it’s terrible; I think we were just out of practice.
We had to slowly get to know one another again. I finally learned what Kurt does for a living as a data scientist. And I re-learned that he needs me to sit and look right at him when he speaks, in order to feel heard. In the beginning, we fought more, not less. There were no kids around to keep us from arguing. But there were also no interruptions. So we kept talking until we got to the bottom of what was bothering us, and came to a place of deeper understanding.
This month, our relationship has a certain quality of attention: We are less needy and more curious. We head to the mountains to hike as fast as we want, identify wildflowers by their Latin names, and fish in high alpine lakes. For us, with the kids away, it’s less like we’re wild twenty-somethings, and more like we’re two souls protecting one another’s solitude. I read, and Kurt learns to play the drums. I go dancing, while he heads out on a bike ride. After dinner, we jam a little: Kurt on the guitar and me on the banjolele, and we fantasize about having a family band when the kids come back.
Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that the bond with my kids is the most important relationship. But in a few years, the kids will be grown and gone. Then what? I don’t want to wait to find out. I want to hold my sweetheart’s hand now with a long afternoon before us, and toast how far we’ve come, how far we’ll go, together.